I have never been an early riser. In fact, there were times (very dark times) in my life when, if I didn’t have a reason to, I wouldn’t even get out of bed at all. I claimed to be a night owl. I would only really come to life during the late afternoon and would either head out to the bar for the night or go to work (which was at the bar). But even when I had a day time job or had to go to Uni, getting out of bed when the alarm went off was always a struggle for me. I would snooze until the very last millisecond and rush out the door to make it on time. Not the best way to start the day.
But times have thankfully changed, as has my lifestyle. I’ve learned to become what I claimed to be unimaginable: a morning person. That’s right. I have become a morning person, complete with an extensive morning self-care routine. These simple daily morning rituals have changed my physical and mental wellbeing for the better. And they have completely changed my attitude towards early mornings. In fact, the morning has now become my favorite part of the day!
An Ayurvedic Daily Routine
According to Ayurveda, following a Dinacharya (Sanskrit for ‘daily routine’) is one of the most powerful and effective ways to improve overall lasting health and wellbeing. It consists of a series of self-care rituals which are to be performed during specific times of the day. Ayurveda encourages us to flow with the natural rhythms of nature, instead of fighting it like our fast-paced modern day lives have taught us to do. Having a daily routine is absolutely essential to bring one’s mind, body and spirit to a higher level of functioning. It also aids digestion, regularizes one’s biological clock, and generates discipline, self-esteem, happiness and longevity. In other words: the right daily routine can drastically improve your life.
My Morning Routine
1. Wake up early – Preferably 30 minutes before sunrise when the world is still asleep and there are sattvic (loving, balancing) qualities in nature that bring peace of mind, clarity and freshness to the senses.
The time I wake up depends on the season or the time zone that I am in. When the sun rises around 5.30/6am I usually wake up naturally at around 5am or sometimes even earlier. Now that it’s winter and the sun doesn’t rise until 8am, I naturally wake up around 6.30 or 7am. I’ve learned to really cherish the stillness before the rest of the world awakes. It has become my sacred time where I can really feel, listen and check in with myself.
2. Tongue scraping – Straight after waking up I go to the bathroom to scrape my tongue until it’s clean, using my copper tongue scraper. This is a non-negotiable practice for me. This Ayurvedic self-care ritual, called Jihwa Prakshalana in Sanskrit, is an important part of oral hygiene practice. You have probably noticed that sometimes there’s a thick white or yellowish layer of mucus sitting on your tongue in the morning. Not only does it look, feel and taste unpleasant, it actually really is disgusting. This mucus is an accumulation of toxins, bacteria, fungi, dead cells and food debris and this wonderful combination causes the notorious morning breath we are all familiar with.
Here’s how it works. When we are asleep, our digestive system removes toxins from inside our body and deposits them onto the surface of the tongue. If not removed properly, they get reabsorbed by the body and can cause health issues like digestion problems and a lower immune system. According to dental research, scraping the tongue with a tongue scraper is more effective at removing toxins and bacteria than using a toothbrush.
The first time I tried out this practice with my new tongue scraper and was confronted with the substance and its colors that it collected from my tongue, I was HORRIFIED (not to mention disgusted by myself for having created the habit of drinking a glass of water straight after waking up every morning all the years before). Go get yourself a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper and see for yourself (and thank me later). You can also use a spoon to try it out.
3. Oil pulling – After scraping my tongue, I proceed my oral health care by putting a tablespoon of oil (I use extra-virgin coconut oil) in my mouth and swish it around like a mouthwash for up to 15 minutes (in the meantime I prepare myself a cup of hot water with lemon juice and a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to have after). After holding it in my mouth and occasionally swishing it for the amount of time, I spit it out in in the garbage bin (not in the sink as this will clog the pipes) and brush my teeth.
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic detoxing method that naturally cleans and whitens the teeth, but also removes toxins and bacteria from the body. Dental research has shown that oil pulling can reduce gum inflammation, cavities, gingivitis and the microorganisms that cause bad breath if practiced correctly and regularly.
4. Drink hot water – To hydrate the body, cleanse the digestive system and flush the kidneys. I usually squeeze some fresh lemon juice in my water to promote digestion and up my vitamin C intake (and for the refreshing taste). Sometimes I also dissolve a pinch of Himalayan pink salt in the mix, as it serves as a natural electrolyte and therefore keeps the body hydrated (adding salt is not recommended if you suffer from chronic ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes).
5. Nasya – This ancient Ayurvedic practice of Nasya is one of my favorite things to do. Putting 3-5 drops of oil into each nostril in the morning helps to clean the sinuses and lubricate the nose. It also improves voice, vision, mental clarity and fights the common cold. Practicing Nasya daily helps release tension in the head and relieve stress. You can use any type of oil depending on your Doshas (your unique physical and mental constitution according to Ayurveda). I am currently using pure sesame oil, which has a great and grounding effect on me.
6. Abhyanga – This is my absolute favorite morning ritual. Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic practice of a full body self-massage using (warm) oil. This self-massage doesn’t have to take very long. I usually take about 5-10 minutes to massage my whole body, focusing mostly on my feet and lower back. I also massage the scalp on days when I wash my hair. I give my skin a minimum of 10 minutes to really absorb the oil – sometimes I do a few Yoga postures and/or Sun Salutations in the meantime to stretch and wake up the body – and then rinse off in the shower with warm water. It’s important to rinse off the excess oil, as it removes the toxins that were released during the massage. Side note: you don’t have to use soap to wash the oil off. In fact, oil is a natural antimicrobial and deodorant! Plus it will keep your skin better moisturized.
Although it might sound time-consuming and perhaps even a bit over the top for some, the benefits of Abhyanga are well worth our effort and time. Regularly self-massaging the body (at least twice a week) with oil hydrates the skin, leaving it look smooth and radiant, relieves stress, anxiety and insomnia, improves circulation, tones the muscles, decreases the effects of aging, helps your body detox and stimulates organ functions. Not to mention it’s a great act of self-love and really pleasurable. Abhyanga is a wonderful way of checking in with yourself and your body, getting to know your body and keeping an eye on any changes. For women, it can also be the perfect time to examine the breasts and notice differences during your menstrual cycle.
What type of oil should I use? It depends very much on your Doshas what type of oil is best for you (take this Dosha test to find out about your Ayurvedic physical and mental constitution). I currently use an Ayurvedic herbal mix from India with a sesame oil base (Balaswagandhadi Thailam – great word for Scrabble) and prefer to use coconut oil in the summer because of its cooling effects. Make sure to use a natural oil and warm it up before applying (I either put the bottle on the heater or in a bowl of hot water). If you’re in a rush to head out and need something that gets absorbed quickly, you can use body lotion. Go for one with all natural ingredients. According to Ayurveda, the main important rule to live by when it comes to choosing skin care is: if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin!
7. Pranayama & Meditation – Every morning I sit in meditation for an hour. I very rarely ever shorten or skip this. For me it’s the most important and loving thing I can do for my body and mind. I really thank my ongoing meditation practice for the current state of my emotional wellbeing. Meditation helps me to reduce stress and anxiety and boosts my overall happiness and creativity. It keeps me centered and aware of my thoughts and the emotions they provoke. And most importantly, it teaches me to accept and live in the present, realizing that the present moment is really all there is.
The way I start my meditation is by doing about 10 minutes of Pranayama, which are Yogic breath techniques to calm the mind. Then I sit in silence, either practicing the technique I learned at the Vipassana course I took or focusing on my natural breathing. Towards the end of the hour I always end my sit with about 5-10 min of Metta, or Loving Kindness meditation. Metta is an active meditation where you focus on sending loving thoughts and wishes out into the world, to yourself and all living beings, without any exceptions. I love ending my practice with this, as it warms my heart and literally brings a smile on my face to imagine everybody being truly happy and free.
If you’re new to meditation, it can be quite the challenge to sit and meditate for even a few minutes, let alone a whole hour (trust me, I’ve been there). But you don’t have to sit for that long in order to experience positive results. You can already notice a difference when you take 10 minutes to sit, either listening to a guided meditation or in stillness, as long as it’s with consistency. If you’re not sure how to meditate or think you can’t meditate, it might benefit you in your practice to read this.
More and more people throughout the world, including some of the most successful people in business, have discovered the great and scientifically proven benefits of meditation and incorporated it into their day to day lives. Meditation is an effective way to rewire your brain if practiced regularly. It’s brain training!
8. Exercise – Regular exercise improves strength, endurance, digestion and circulation. As we all know, moderate forms of exercise keep the body healthy and in good shape. My exercise routine varies from day to day, depending on my schedule, how my body feels and which part of my cycle I am in. I try to do gentle Yoga like stretching and joint rolling every day for about 5-10 minutes. Sometimes on the mat, sometimes in bed. Usually that warms me up and gets me excited to do more. So if I have time to get a full workout done, I follow it up with Sun Salutations and freestyle fun flows. If I’m in need of more grounding, I take it slow (Hatha Yoga) and try to be very mindful of the breath as I move. If I feel like firing it up, I go for a one breath one movement sequence (Vinyasa flow) and incorporate strength poses and exercises like push- and sit-ups.
9. Breakfast – It’s healthy to give your body some time to wake up and get your digestion moving before having your first meal of the day. The type of breakfast I have varies according to the season. In hot weather, I like my meals to be light and during the winter months more substantial. My absolute favorite breakfast is Ayurvedic oatmeal, with ingredients that are particularly balancing for my Doshas. When I sit to eat, I try to do so in silence and without any distractions. I eat slowly to really savour and enjoy every bite and express my gratitude. This mindful practice really sets the tone for the day, especially when you have a busy schedule ahead of you.
Not a One-Time Deal
Of course, I am well aware that not everyone has a work schedule that allows them 2 hours of self-care in the morning. And you don’t have to. Even just spending one hour or 30 minutes on a daily self-care routine can already be of great benefit to your overall wellbeing.
But you have to keep in mind that self-care isn’t a one-time deal. It’s the constant repetition of small habits like these, which together will keep your body, mind and spirit balanced. No matter how busy you are or at what stage you are in life: taking care of yourself should always be a priority.